My love-hate relationship with online collaboration tools

While I’ve been trying to think of something insightful to say about online collaboration and file sharing, three more CPD23 Things have come and gone. That’s what I get for going out of town for a weekend and subsequently becoming addicted to US Open live streaming. Thanks to the rain in New York City, I can stop watching tennis long enough to finally confront Thing 13.

Image credit: KatieTT

I haven’t exactly been avoiding Google Docs, Dropbox and wikis. I’ve just been avoiding the part where I have to figure out something useful to say about them. I have experimented with all three tools, but am regularly frustrated by not being able to use them to their full collaborative potential.

Google Docs

I first tried to use Google Docs back in mid-2007 when I was co-chairing a black-tie fundraiser. I had hoped we could move our spreadsheet of auction prospects to Google Docs, so that we could all be working from the same document rather than reconciling multiple versions and e-mail updates. Unfortunately, our committee wasn’t quite tech-savvy enough to handle this new-fangled tool. I was disappointed, but we did come up with a reasonable alternative in that I was allowed VPN access so I could update the same document my staff contacts were using.

In the years since, I haven’t been a particularly active Google Docs user. I have experimented with it to keep some notes from meetings, class sessions, and readings I wanted to cite in papers. It works fine for these purposes, but none of this is particularly collaborative.

It’s not that I haven’t tried to talk people into more collaborative uses, my efforts just never seem to pan out. For one group project in library school, I suggested trying the Google Docs presentation tool in place of Power Point, so we didn’t have to send slides around or burden any one person with organizing the whole thing. Unfortunately, none of my group mates seemed too interested. Once again, I was disappointed. Aren’t library school students supposed to be chomping at the bit to experiment with new technology?

I also set up a tracking spreadsheet for a different event I was involved with, but as I found myself overstretched and needing to step back from that commitment, I am not certain if anyone ever used it.

So, for all intents and purposes, I’m 0 for 3 in collaborating with Google Docs.

Dropbox

I love Dropbox, but I mostly just use it as a way to keep certain documents handy. I have not used its collaborative features yet at all, probably because I have yet to be in a situation where it makes sense to suggest them. Or perhaps I’m just a little gun-shy after my repeated failures to spread the Google Docs love.

My favorite thing about Dropbox is that it freed me from carrying a USB drive between home and work and class. While it would be better if I could download Dropbox on my work computer, I can settle for having access to a document in the cloud when I need it. I rarely bring work home, or work on personal documents at the office, but there are some occasions where putting a file in Dropbox comes in handy.

Writing this “Thing” did remind me of one Dropbox feature I had forgotten about, which is the ability to create a public link to a document. I am not sure what I’ll use this for yet, but was glad to be reminded of the option.

I think I may recommend Dropbox to my mom, as she was recently telling me about her frantic search for a missing USB drive that finally turned up in the laundry hamper. She’s a teacher who works at two different schools and often needs to edit documents from home, so Dropbox seems to be an ideal tool for organizing files she needs to access in all three places.

Wikis

Of the three tools in Thing 13, I’m probably most fascinated by wikis. Of course, I’m probably most disappointed by them as well, considering it’s been my dream for awhile to integrate a wiki into the workflow at my office. The tool seems ideally suited to housing documentation for policies and processes affecting multiple staff. Wikis can be updated by multiple people in one location while maintaining a history. It’s easier to search for information in a Wiki than on a massive and cluttered shared network drive. It seems like the ultimate solution to the multiple conflicting versions of documentation currently littered around our e-mails and network.

Unfortunately, launching a wiki is not a particularly easy task. The concept is simple and the technology is relatively user friendly, but people remain reluctant to change. My wiki dream has gone unfulfilled mostly because I don’t have the time in the work week to move it off the back burner. I’ve tried finding other champions within the organization to put a little momentum behind the idea, but it’s still slow going.

In the meantime, I enjoy the opportunities I have to interact with successful wikis like the Library Day in the Life and Library Routes projects. A committee I serve on is also using a wiki to share ideas and communicate between meetings, so that’s a nice way for me to get my hands on the tools. I’ve also been attending conference sessions and reading about wikis and knowledge sharing, so that hopefully I’ll be able to implement appropriate solutions in my work.

Image credit: jayfreshuk

If I’ve learned one thing from this reflection, it’s that the tools are the easy part. No matter how beautiful, logical, or user-friendly the solution, it’s not enough to put it on people’s desks and tell them to collaborate. I personally love applying technology to solve problems, but it’s increasingly clear to me that getting other people on board involves more convincing and perhaps more of an emotional tug. That’s not necessarily my strong suit, so moving forward, it will be important for me to focus less on the technology and more on learning techniques for persuasion, motivation, and successful change management. I’m starting to read a little more on these topics, and look forward to sharing insights with you. In the meantime, feel free to leave tips and recommended resources in the comments!

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